Features of new exhibits planned for Strataca, Hutchinson’s underground salt museum, include an interactive miniature excavator, a percussion ‘blast room’ offering the feeling of working in an underground mine and a giant tongue to illustrate how salt affects taste.
Part of the work will be funded by a nearly $175,000 grant announced this week by the Kansas Department of Tourism and Commerce.
Museum officials expect the displays to be created within the next 12 to 18 months, depending on the ability to secure adequate funding and the availability of the unique elements that will make them up.
Government officials, including Lt. Govt. David Toland, visited Hutchinson Thursday afternoon to announce Strataca’s and seven other awards that make up $1.5 million in federal pass-through tourist attraction sub-grants for Kansas, or TASK grants.
Hutchinson Salt Company is replacing the original mine hoists after 99 years of operation
The money comes from U.S. Economic Development Agency (EDA) state grants for travel, tourism and outdoor recreation. An additional $462,000 from the Patterson Family Foundation will bolster some of the awards.
“It was a very competitive process,” Kansas Tourism Director Bridgette Jobe told the group gathered in the lobby of the Salt Museum. “We received 52 applications from 28 different counties with total requests of $9.5 million. The review process was very difficult and we had to go through many compliance checks.”
The Stratac Plan
New exhibits at Strataca will include a “mini-miner integration zone” that, in addition to several excavators, will include an interactive crane and a STEM table with science and math activities related to salt and chemicals.
“Adults can fit on the excavators,” said museum board member Travis Booe, who along with board member Kelsi Depew helped draft the museum’s grant application.
The activities will be aimed at children between the ages of six and 16, but adults will likely find them interesting, Depew said.
The new “Blast Zone” will include a small, enclosed room where visitors can safely experience what the percussion of a mine explosion might feel like. The display will also include information about Dr. Alfred Nobel and his invention of dynamite in 1867.
Another exhibit will focus on the Permian Age, when Kansas was under the sea, and scientists believe that the layers of salt that make up the salt zones in the area formed.
The design of this display, which is intended to be another interactive educational exhibit, “is less set in stone,” Depew said.
The fourth exhibit will focus on the effects of salt on the body and will include a giant interactive tongue that lights up when you touch different areas to help explain how people taste and why tastes change over time.
The foundation awards nearly $60,000 in grants to six Hutchinson nonprofits
All the displays will go into an existing but unused portion of the mined mine, Depew said.
The $174,750 grant is a two-year grant, Booe said, meaning the museum has two years to match and spend it. Requires 100% local compliance.
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Other grant awards
∎ The Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau and Barton County will receive a TASK grant of $225,000 and $112,500 from the Patterson Foundation to expand an existing youth sports complex.
— The Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau and Barton County will receive a TASK grant of $225,000 and $112,500 from the Patterson Foundation to expand an existing youth sports complex.
Two football, two soccer and one softball fields, all with artificial turf, will be added to the existing softball and baseball diamonds. The grant will include bleachers, screening, video boards, fencing and entrances. It will also cover ADA accessible restrooms, a first aid room and a paved parking lot.
∎ Horsethief Reservoir in Hodgeman County will receive just under $300,000, including nearly $100,000 from the foundation, to build five more yurts, which are round, dome-shaped structures to house visitors around the 400-acre lake. The project will also include a courtyard with a podium and a pavilion.
∎ Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, Russell County, will use a $114,837 TASK grant and $57,418 from the Patterson Foundation to convert the second floor of the current art center into the Kathy Ruth Neal Gallery.
It will feature the works of the late, internationally known self-taught carver from Kansas City, who created carvings depicting scenes from American life. In addition to a suspended metal rotating display of her art, the gallery will feature touch-screen video.
∎ Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan will receive $200,000 for an immersive 250-square-foot grass prairie exhibit adjacent to the center’s theater, including an interactive children’s play area.
∎ Johnson County Parks and Recreation received $201,168 to upgrade and renovate the fields at the Mid-America Sports Complex in Shawnee. The work will include the construction of four new natural grass baseball and softball fields, including lighting, fencing, backstops, dugouts and seating.
∎ Crawford County Miners Hall Museum will receive $337,500, including a $112,500 Patterson grant, to relocate and restore a massive 610 Walking Dragline excavator used in the Weir-Pittsburg coalfields in Cherokee County. One of only 16 ever built and one of only two still in existence, it will help tell the story of Kansas coal mining.
∎ A $159,300 TASK grant and $79,650 from the foundation awarded to The Nature Conservancy of Kansas will be used to develop new interpretive and orientation signage on a pair of public hiking and horse trails on the Smokey Valley Ranch near Oakley, a 16,800-acre working cattle and a bison ranch in the Flint Hills. The project will include self-guided audio tours in English and Spanish about the history of the area.
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Importance of tourism to Kansas
“We are honored to congratulate and recognize the eight honorees who are here today taking steps to significantly expand their destinations and bring more visitors and money to their Kansas communities,” Toland said. “From agritourism to historic sites to new recreation opportunities, these things will keep Kansans engaged and these communities thriving and vibrant places that will foster more economic opportunities.”
Attracting visitors to Kansas who stay in local hotels and visit restaurants, cafes and retail stores supports 84,000 direct or indirect jobs, Toland said.
“Last year, the Sunflower State welcomed nearly 34 million visitors who spent $11.2 billion,” Toland said. “What you do really matters and it spreads positively through our communities.”